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Hall of Fame ballot is loaded this year


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001

TAMPA -- The buzz around Super Kingdom is that the only thing longer than the list of possible Hall of Fame candidates is the list of opinions on who is a lock to be inducted.

There are two coaches (Marv Levy and Bill Parcells) with impeccable credentials, two receivers (Lynn Swann and John Stallworth) with eight Super Bowl rings between them, two linemen (Jackie Slater and Ron Yary) who played a combined 35 seasons, and a man who became an NFL owner in 1959 (Ralph Wilson), and still is.

You want others just as worthy? How about Redskins receiver Art Monk (940 receptions), Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes (39 interceptions) and Dolphins linebacking legend Nick Buoniconti, an eight-time Pro Bowl player.

Rounding out the field are Giants linebacker Harry Carson, Bears defensive end Dan Hampton, Raiders tight end Dave Casper, Oilers guard Mike Munchak and Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood.

A daunting task is facing the Pro Football Hall of Fame's board of selectors. The 38-man crew must elect four to seven former players or coaches for enshrinement. The selection committee is composed of one media representative from every pro football city, along with six at-large selectors.

"I'll tell you right now, the field is wide open," said John McClain, NFL writer for the Houston Chronicle and a long-standing member of the board of selectors. "There is no clear group of front-runners. I would say it's more wide open than it has ever been."

Three finalists, Parcells, Monk and Slater, are first-year nominees, while Buoniconti was nominated by the seniors committee. Carson, Casper, Levy, Munchak, Stallworth, Swann, Yary and Youngblood have all been finalists.

"It's a tremendous honor just to be considered in this group," said Slater, who played 20 seasons for the Rams. "You look at that list and you see all the names of so many legends of the game. It's a great feeling to be among them."

Asked if he had given any thought to his chances, Slater responded: "You can't control what people decide about you. You can only control what you did on the field. I think I did pretty well."

One intriguing subplot is the "retirement" of Parcells. Commonly viewed as a lock to be inducted on his first attempt, he may not garner sufficient votes because he is rumored to be contemplating a return.

To be eligible, players have to be out of the game for five years. Coaches, however, just have to be retired.

"I don't care if he's coming back or not, he's a Hall of Fame coach," McClain said. "(Bears coach) Mike Ditka came back, didn't he? I look at it this way: If they want coaches to not be eligible until five years after retirement, then they should make the rules say that."

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